The overuse or abuse of alcohol (alcoholism) or other drugs is
substance abuse. It can cause
or worsen many medical problems and can destroy families and lives.
If you think you may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, take a short
quiz to evaluate your symptoms:
- Assess Your Substance Abuse(What is a PDF document?)
Alcohol abuse causes over 100,000 deaths in
the United States and Canada each year. It is the drug most commonly abused by
children ages 12 to 17. Alcohol-related car crashes are the leading
cause of death in teenagers. People who drink alcohol are more likely to engage
in high-risk sexual behavior, have poor grades or job
performance, use tobacco products, and experiment with
illegal drugs. Alcohol and drug use may be an
unconscious attempt at self-treatment for another problem, such as
You have an alcohol problem if
your use of alcohol interferes with your health or daily living. You develop
alcoholism if you physically or emotionally depend on alcohol to get you
through your day.
Long-term heavy drinking damages the
liver, nervous system, heart, and brain. It can lead to
high blood pressure, stomach problems, medicine
interactions, sexual problems, osteoporosis, and cancer. Alcohol abuse can also
lead to violence, accidents, social isolation, jail or prison time, and
problems at work and home.
Symptoms of an alcohol problem
include personality changes, blackouts, drinking more and more for the same
"high," and denial of the problem. A person with an alcohol problem may gulp or
sneak drinks, drink alone or early in the morning, and suffer from the shakes.
He or she may also have family, school, or work problems or get in trouble with
the law because of drinking.
The use of alcohol with medicines or
illegal drugs may increase the effects of each.
patterns vary. Some people drink and may be intoxicated (drunk) every day. Other people drink large amounts of
alcohol at specific times, such as on the weekend. It is common for someone
with an alcohol or drug problem to call in sick for work on Monday or Friday.
He or she may complain of having a virus or the flu. Others may be sober for
long periods and then go on a drinking binge that lasts for weeks or
alcohol dependence may suffer serious
withdrawal symptoms, such as trembling, delusions,
hallucinations, and sweating, if he or she stops drinking suddenly ("cold
turkey"). After alcohol dependence develops, it becomes very hard to stop
drinking without outside help. Medical
detoxification may be needed.
Drug abuse includes the use of illegal
drugs—such as marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, or other "street
drugs"—and the abuse of legal prescription and nonprescription drugs. Some
people use drugs to get a "high" or to relieve stress and emotional